Letter From Berlin: Germany Seems Powerless to Outlaw Far-Right NPD

By in Berlin

An attack on eight Indians in the eastern town of Mügeln has triggered renewed calls for a ban on the far-right National Democratic Party of Germany. But the NPD, which received €1.4 million in public funds last year, is protected by legal obstacles to outlawing political parties.

Right-wing extremists attend an NPD rally in May. Would a ban on the party help to stamp out racism in Germany?
DPA

Right-wing extremists attend an NPD rally in May. Would a ban on the party help to stamp out racism in Germany?

The leader of National Democratic Party of Germany, Udo Voigt, wants to build a new Reich chancellery on the site of Berlin's Holocaust memorial, and he said last week that Adolf Hitler's deputy in the Nazi Party, the late Rudolf Hess, should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The domestic intelligence agency, the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, calls the NPD "racist, anti-Semitic, revisionist" in its 2006 report and says it "denigrates the democratic and legal order of the constitution."

A guide by the NPD leadership for party candidates and officials states that the party's aim is to "restore the capability of the German Reich" and calls the German constitution a "diktat of the western victorious powers."

An "African, Asian or Oriental" can never become German, regardless of whether they obtain a German passport, the party states. Members of other races will "always remain foreign bodies physically, mentally and spiritually, regardless of how long they live in Germany."

NPD flags and symbols are unmistakably similar to Nazi paraphernalia, and party members are on record praising Hitler and his henchmen. And in a bid to broaden its support, the party has been recruiting members of the violent neo-Nazi scene into its leadership and has joined forces with the far-right German People's Union (DVU) party.

Yet the NPD is a legitimate German political party. It received €1.4 million ($1.9 million) in state funding last year. It seems astounding that such an organization can be allowed to exist in the country that perpetrated the Holocaust and has spent the last six decades atoning for it.

Court Threw Out First Attempt to Ban Party

The democratic political parties are well aware of the problem but have so far failed to tackle it. A bid by the government and parliament to outlaw the NPD foundered in 2003 on Germany's rigorous system of checks and balances installed to prevent a repeat of the Third Reich, when organisations and parties were outlawed overnight.

Germany's highest court, the Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe, threw out the case because it emerged that important witnesses for the prosecution -- including the NPD chief for the state of North Rhine-Westphalia -- worked as informants for the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The court decided that it couldn't ban a party whose policies may have been shaped in part by government agents.

The failure to ban the NPD was a major embarrassment for the previous government under Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Many analysts believe it actually strengthened the NPD, which has seen an increase in membership in recent years to around 7,000 in 2006 from 6,000 in 2005.

So the party went on marching and railing against immigrants and immigration, and won enough votes to enter the regional parliaments of two eastern states, Saxony in 2004, with 9.2 percent of the vote, and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania in 2006 with 7.3 percent.

Now the leader of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Kurt Beck, has called for a new attempt to outlaw the NPD, following a nationwide outcry over the beating of eight Indian men by a group of Germans shouting "Foreigners Out" in the eastern town of Mügeln on Aug. 18.

"We need a political climate in Germany that makes it unmistakably clear that anti-Semitism, racism and discrimination will not be tolerated," Beck told the newspaper Tagesspiegel am Sonntag. SPD General Secretary Hubertus Heil said: "The constitution expressly allows the possibility of a party ban. I ask myself how much more the NPD still has to do before we start taking this issue seriously."

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